Does a vegan diet improve fertility?

Does a vegan diet improve fertility?

Does a vegan diet improve fertility?

Stefanie Valakas

(Image Credit: VeganLiftz)

 

One of the most common questions I am asked as a fertility dietitian is whether going vegan can improve fertility.

First, a quick distinction:

  • Vegan diet = diet free of meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, honey and all products of animals
  • Vegetarian diet = diet free of meat, fish and poultry but includes eggs and dairy (also known as lacto-ovo-vegetarian)
  • “Plant-based” diet = a term that has recently emerged that has different definitions depending on who you ask, I see it more similar to “flexitarian” where people follow a dominantly vegetarian style of diet with a plant focus, but still include small portions of meat, fish, poultry on a less frequent basis.

So, is going vegan a good idea if you are trying to enhance your fertility and chances of conceiving? Let’s get into the pros and cons.

Pro: Eating more fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts & wholegrains

As a dietitian, I am NOT going to be the one to complain about eating more plant foods including:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Wholegrains
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Legumes & beans

These all provide essential nutrients for fertility including antioxidants to help fight inflammation, fibre, B vitamins including folate which is key for preventing neural tube defects in early pregnancy and is found in fortified breads and cereals and dark green leafy veggies. Nuts and seeds provide healthy fats and a range of minerals including zinc and selenium. Legumes and beans provide plant-based protein, zinc, magnesium, B vitamins and plant-based iron – critical nutrients for men and women when trying to conceive too! So there are definitely upsides to a vegan diet!

You can read more about why these nutrients are important in the pre-conception period here.

Pro: Vegetable Protein vs Animal Protein

A vegan diet, by nature, is focused more on plant proteins from beans, legumes, tofu, tempeh, nuts and seeds as well as wholegrains and plant-based milks. Many people actually forget that foods such as bread and pasta do offer some protein to the diet too, in fact a single slice of seeded bread can provide up to 4 grams of protein per slice!

Worried about soy and your hormones? Get the facts here.

Research in the fertility nutrition space has shown that even just 5% of the total calories (FYI that’s 25 grams of protein in a standard 2000 calorie or 8700 kJ diet) being from vegetable protein over animal protein, reduced the risk of ovulatory infertility (Chavarro et al., 2011)!

So it looks like it is worth even just borrowing this little nugget of information and incorporating more plant foods for fertility, without necessarily going fully vegan can be a positive first step!

Want my vegan Satay Tofu Soba Noodle recipe? Get the recipe here.

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DOES THE VEGAN DIET IMPROVE FERTILITY? 🌿// Link in my bio to read the blog post where I weigh in on the pros and cons of a vegan diet for fertility ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 🍉 Whilst a well-planned vegan diet can provide health benefits including consuming more plant foods and vegetable protein associated with reduced risk of infertility, however…. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⚠️There is a risk of nutrient deficiency without careful planning! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 🥤Some also buy into the highly processed vegan products on the market or justifying foods and drinks like soft drinks as they are vegan, giving these products a health halo they probably don't deserve ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ☹️ Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find any specific evidence of a vegan diet intervention for fertility ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ✨Read more on my latest blog post link in my bio⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #fertilitydiet #fertilitynutrition #ivfdiet #fertilitydiettips #fertilityfood #ivfnutrition #ivfgotthis #womenshealth #vegandiet #vegannutrition #plantbaseddiet #vegandiettips #ttctribe #ttcsisters #ttcaussies #ttcaustralia #periodchat #waitingforaf #ttcaussiesconnect #ttccommunity #infertilitywarrior #infertilitysucks #nutritionplusdietitians #thedietologist #innerwestsydney #newtown #easternsuburbs #bondijunction #sydneyaustralia

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Pro: Plenty of Fibre

One of my favourite parts of a well-planned vegan diet is the abundance of dietary fibre that’s on offer! From fruits, veggies, wholegrains and legumes and beans the opportunity to meet the 25-30 gram per day target becomes much simpler with the abundance of plant foods on offer.

The benefits of getting enough fibre are numerous from feeding the gut microbiome with prebiotics to keep the gut bugs healthy, to keeping you regular which is key for removing any hormone waste products leaving the body – obviously important for optimal fertility.

A high fibre diet has also been shown to be beneficial for endometriosis as it can help lower oestrogen levels in the body which can contribute to endometriosis growing (Gaskins et al., 2009).

Want my fibre-rich vegan rice paper roll recipe? Grab it here.

I hear you thinking, “well sounds pretty good so far, maybe I should be going vegan for my fertility?”, here’s the cons (for balance) for you to consider before taking the plunge:

Con: Nutrient Deficiencies

Just like any other dietary pattern with some level of restriction, there is a risk of nutrient deficiencies. This can be absolutely critical during the lifestage where you are thinking about becoming pregnant and nutrient demands are increasing to support you and your baby throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Here’s a brief run down for the nutrients you need to be mindful on when following a vegan diet:

  • Vitamin B12: naturally found exclusively in animal foods, important for nerve health, and supports folate in its role in building DNA in our cells – critical when wanting to build a new life! Whilst we don’t need much B12, we do need some daily and it can take a while to find out we are deficient. Look for added B12 in soy milks and other products such as nutritional yeast and incorporate these regularly, or consider supplementation. Read more about B12 in prenatal supplements here.
  • Iron: a nutrient that many women struggle to get enough of, during pregnancy a woman’s requirements soar from 18 mg pre-pregnancy to a whopping 27 mg! It is challenging to get by without supplementation during pregnancy, but choosing iron-rich plant foods and combining with sources of vitamin C such as fruit, lemon juice, chilli, broccoli, spinach, tomato or capsicum can help with absorption. Avoiding foods or supplements containing high levels of calcium or zinc and avoiding tea and coffee for 1-2 hours around meals can help too as these can all inhibit the absorption of iron! Get more tips about iron here.

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IRON // An essential nutrient found in the centre of every red blood cell circulating in your veins, in charge of moving oxygen from your lungs to all your tissues (pretty critical stuff) . 🥫 Women need 18 mg of iron each day whilst men only need 8 mg, and this only increases if you're very active, have heavy periods (more losses) or are pregnant! . 🥩 Most women struggle to keep up with their iron needs, but some smart meal planning can help boost it, here are some great animal-based and plant-based sources of iron: . 🥩 Beef 🍣 Salmon 🥫 Tinned tuna 🥫 Kidney beans 🥣 Fortified breakfast cereals like Weetbix or AllBran 🌿 Tofu . 🤔 Remember, the animal-based sources are better absorbed, whilst the plant-based soruces are not but combining with a source of vitamin C (go back a few posts to read about the best sources) can help with absorption! . 🤰 You want to ensure your iron is within range on your bloodwork before trying to conceive to ensure you're not behind the eight-ball when it comes to pregnancy where demands only increase! . 👇 When was the last time you got your iron checked?

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  • Zinc: zinc is critical for the DNA found in the sperm and the egg! Zinc is typically found in meat, fish, seafood, chicken and turkey. However, on a vegan diet, you can get zinc from legumes and beans, nuts & seeds!
  • Iodine: iodine is critical for protecting baby’s developing brain health, found in seafood and also in fortified breads and cereals due to the addition of iodised salt. On a vegan diet, opt for seaweed as a snack or make homemade sushi and ensure you are using iodised salt at home. Check the back of your prenatal supplement to ensure you are getting enough iodine too.

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IODINE // A critical nutrient during pregnancy to help support Mum's thyroid function and support baby's growth and development. . 🤰 As I always say, eat like you're pregnant when trying to conceive so loading up your plate with these iodine rich foods is a good idea when #ttc . 🌿 This nutrient is especially important if you're vegetarian or vegan! . ✔️ Seaweed – rich in iodine kombu has the highest iodine content giving you nearly 2000% of your daily iodine needs (whoah!) followed by wakame (about 44%) then nori (10-30% of your daily needs when TTC) . 🦐 Prawns and seafood are rich in iodine too! Load up on seafood twice a week to help get this nutrient in! . 🥚 Eggs especially the yolk, can be a good source of iodine whilst boosting the protein in your meal! . 🥫 Canned Tuna is a convenient source of iodine perfect for work lunches! Choose brands with smaller fish and with higher omega-3 content! . ✔️ Iodised salt – whilst most of us eat way too much salt. Switching the salt you do use in cooking to Iodised varieties can vs a simple swap, and look at how much salt is coming from processed foods, sauces and canned foods too and choose reduced salt varieties! . 🍞 Bread in Australia is made with Iodised salt and is one the key sources in our diets that protects women with unplanned pregnancies that may not be taking a prenatal supplement. . 👇 What's your favourite source of iodine?

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  • Vitamin D: there has been mixed evidence about vitamin D and its role in fertility, no doubt it is a critical nutrient for our bones and immune health too. Getting enough vitamin D can be challenging for most adults, of course, the best source is the sun, followed by vitamin D fortified mushrooms when following a vegan diet. Get your levels tested and speak to your GP about supplementation if you are deficient.

Need help choosing a vegan prenatal supplement that’s right for you? Book in for a 30 min express prenatal supplement consult.

Con: Don’t buy into the vegan “junk” food

Once you get started on a vegan diet, you may start noticing “oh hang on a second, chips are vegan, this coconut ice-cream is also vegan, and this fizzy drink too!” – you get the picture. Instead of focusing on what we call core food groups, the label of “vegan” gets us all excited and validating any food choice under the sun.

We know that minimising sugary drinks and processed foods is important when trying to conceive (Hatch et al., 2018).

Now, this isn’t to say you can’t enjoy these foods just like anyone else! But just like any dietary label, don’t let it make you blind to the other properties of the food and what they really have to offer for you.

With the rise of plant-based meat alternatives, we need to really keep these processed foods in check as they have been shown to be high in salt and may not be as healthy of an option as they appear on the surface.

Con: No evidence to support vegan style diet specifically for fertility

Unfortunately, at this time, there have not been any specific studies comparing the fertility of those following a healthful vegan diet versus those following Australian dietary guidelines or something similar, so it is hard to know the direct effect of a vegan diet on fertility. Just because the evidence is lacking it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be of benefit, but it doesn’t give us any guidance.

The Verdict?

Incorporating more plant foods is a great idea when trying to conceive, focus on fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes and beans and nuts & seeds as well as extra virgin olive oil – all these foods are definitely going to benefit you as a couple when trying to conceive.

  • However, if you don’t feel inclined to go cold turkey on meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs – that’s okay! These foods have important nutrients to offer for your fertility health too.
  • Don’t forget to monitor your iron and B12 levels as being deficient may interfere with your fertility, ensure you prioritise fortified foods such as plant-based milk with added B12 or nutritional yeast, and combined plant-based sources of iron with vitamin C (e,g. chickpeas and tomato) to help absorption.
  • Be mindful of any kind of restriction when trying to conceive or pregnant, especially if you have a strained relationship with food or a history of one as this can really bring up mental health challenges for some people too.
  • Get help from a dietitian to ensure you’ve got your bases covered.

I support many women trying to conceive and pregnant who choose to follow a vegan style diet for a variety of other reasons and it is definitely do-able with great planning, expert advice and support!

Book yourself in for a FREE 15 min discovery call and let’s talk about planning a well-balanced vegan, vegetarian or plant-based diet to support you before pregnancy.

A New Year, A New Experience

A New Year, A New Experience

A New Year, A New Experience

Andrew Coutts

I began 2020 enthusiastically looking forward to my first trip to Malaysia to view the best healthcare facilities and experts that the country had to offer. Initial conversations with the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council began after I had witnessed its CEO, Sherene Azli give a show stopping talk about the opportunities available to patients at an International Medical Travel Journal event in Athens in 2018.

 

The talk showcased the prestigious private healthcare institutions who partner MHTC and offer breath taking facilities with jaw dropping medic/patient ratios and cutting edge treatments and technologies. But, what was equally impressive was the way Sherene spoke about the individuals involved, the care givers, the support workers and the medics who were committed to providing the highest standards of care and treatment to ever growing numbers of patients from across the globe.

So too, was the emphasis placed on the care and support offered to health tourists from the moment they arrive in the country with access to dedicated Concierge services and Lounges in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and Penang International Airport to the moment they leave.

This level of service is not offered merely as ‘front of house’ effect, it continues throughout the patient’s stay in Malaysia where they and their travelling companions can access medical, wellness and tourist facilities.

In my job as an international fertility travel consultant I travel the world reviewing services, facilities and professionals however MHTC and the ‘Malaysian Experience’ offers a layer of comfort that I have rarely seen before.

To put it simply. This is not just medical tourism, this is ‘wrap around’ care and support at its most sophisticated.

Like the majority of events, campaigns and initiatives planned for 2020 the highly anticipated, “Malaysia Year of Healthcare Travel 2020” and linked “Visit Malaysia 2020” campaigns had to be postponed but despite Covid-19’s best efforts Malaysia has been both robust and successful in its handling and containment of the pandemic which has caused world wide devastation and disruption.

At the time of writing (September 2020) Malaysia is reporting a recovery rate of 96.6% for those that have been infected by the disease which puts it near the top of the list of countries who have been most successful with its medical and social distancing interventions. The World Health Organization (WHO) commended the country for being one of the best prepared for the outbreak and its Health Director-General, Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah has been recognised as one of the ‘top three doctors’ in the world by China Global Television Network (CGTN). It is no wonder therefore that Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin recently proclaimed,

“Malaysia is recognised as one of the best countries in dealing with COVID-19 and the death rates attributed to COVID-19 are among the lowest in the world”.

Malaysia’s response to the pandemic is another indication of its ability to tackle, supress and succeed in treating disease and illness. It is no surprise therefore that it has become one of the fastest growing destinations for medical travellers who arrive seeking interventions to treat, stabilise or cure.

Covid-19 has had an enormous short term effect on the country’s medical tourist trade and normal travel behavour patterns may not return soon but MHTC’s CEO Sherene Azli believes that the country’s experience and track record will enable it to bounce back, and bounce back with some impact over the next five years,

“Malaysia expects to welcome fewer than 300,000 medical tourists this year, compared with 1.2 million last year but we are confident that our ambitious plans for recovery are realistic and sustainable”.

The Malaysia Healthcare Industry Blueprint (2020-2025) which was developed earlier in 2020 supports this view and provides a roadmap to enhance the country’s position in the region as the first choice destination for healthcare travellers. The blueprint aims to increase the revenue generated from healthcare travellers to a minimum of RM4.2 billion (US$1.01 billion) by 2025.

The blueprint is ambitious but the joined up approach to medical tourism with MHTC acting as the lynchpin to a collection of leading health and wellness providers, backed by central Government support will ensure that the country continues to lead in an increasingly competitive field.

By 2022 it is estimated that the global healthcare travel market is estimated to be worth RM82.7 billion.

Health and wellness tourism is ‘big business’ and despite a temporary pause in travel it will return, and return with gusto. Malaysia is prepared and will respond with the efficiency and competency it is known for.

My particular interest is fertility travel which is one of the fastest growing sectors of medical tourism. Falling fertility rates as well as individuals delaying parenthood, environmental factors and the emergence of new diagnostics and interventions have contributed to the rise in treatment providers and clinics encouraging cross border travel.

Results from the 2020 Fertility Travel Survey facilitated by the International Fertility Company highlight the main motivators behind fertility travel. These include cost, perceived success rates, treatments offered and the level of care and support offered by providers. Recognised as one of the most comprehensive fertility travel surveys ever undertaken, 97% of participants said that would continue to travel once the temporary restrictions regarding travel due to the coronavirus pandemic were lifted.

So, how does Malaysia score on the top four motivators behind fertility travel and what might allow it to become recognised as the fertility hub of Asia?

Costs:

Treatments are affordable, with each in-vitro fertilization cycle costing between RM16,500 and RM20,600 (US$4,000 and US$5,000). Uniquely, there is also legislation in place to ensure that international patients are not charged any more than domestic patients for the same treatment.

Success rates:

Statistics from MHTC show that clinical pregnancy is successful in one in two fertility patients in Malaysia.

Support:

The Malaysian healthcare system is universally regarded as well-regulated and patients are offered fertility packages which combine health, wealth and tourism and include medical expenses, accommodation, airport transfers and cycle planning.

Treatments Offered:

Procedures widely available in Malaysia are ovulation induction with timed intercourse (TIC), superovulation with intrauterine insemination (IUI), in vitro fertilization (IVF), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), assisted hatching (AH), blastocyst transfer (BL) and embryo and sperm cryopreservation. Other treatments include sperm and egg donation (a service available only to non Muslims) gamete intra fallopian transfer (GIFT), zygote intra fallopian transfer (ZIFT) and frozen embryo transfers (FET).

Ticking The Right Boxes

Malaysia does seem to tick the right boxes for fertility patients looking to travel and with its Government committed to universal access to high quality healthcare for both the domestic and international patient facilities are on par with anything you might find in Europe or North America.

The country is using the universal pause on medical tourism to provide flexible alternatives to face to face consultations. These include online telemedicine support, maintaining communication between doctor and patient and preparing travellers to ensure they are ready to visit Malaysia when travel restrictions are lifted.

What I like about the Malaysian approach to fertility treatment

The current population of Malaysia is just over 32 million according to the latest United Nations data. It is relatively intimate country which provides a very warm welcome to visitors from all over the globe. Famed for its natural, cultural, historical and gastronomic attractions, its understanding and tolerance of religious and cultural differences it is cosmopolitan and transnational in every sense.

It has the infrastructure which is properly financed and supported to promote medical tourism and the blend of private and public participation ensures that all have bought in and are committed to the aim of making the country a medical destination of choice.

As a fertility practitioner advising patients about travel Malaysia makes all the right noises. Boosted by an English speaking population, and a comprehensive, sophisticated selection of fertility treatments and procedures that are available at significantly lower costs (and currency exchange rates) than many other fertility destinations it is no wonder that it is being seriously considered as the ‘fertility hub of Asia’.

This position has much to do with the professionalism, foresight and ability of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council which is able to provide a sector wide approach to medical travel. I have witnessed levels of support for the fertility traveller in many countries but although some of this support is superb it is only provided by individual clinics or groups. MHTC offer a high level of support and information to travellers and present a provider portfolio from which patients can choose the right clinic, hospital or treatment. They not only showcase the medical talent Malaysia has to offer but their collaboration with specific clinics and hospitals offers the patient reassurance regarding the quality of care each provides.

MHTC are a medical tourism facilitator but they are far more than that. They represent a medical tourism model which many other countries would do well to replicate; led by a charismatic CEO they have rightly come to ‘own’ the fertility space in Malaysia and have ensured that this niche area of medicine and science is quite rightly, beginning to warrant the recognition it truly deserves.

My advice. Why not try Malaysia. I am looking forward to it.

Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) is an agency under the Ministry of Health tasked to facilitate and promote the healthcare travel industry of Malaysia by coordinating industry collaborations and building valuable public-private partnerships, at home and abroad.

You can read more about the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council here

Greece – Fertility destination 2021

Greece – Fertility destination 2021

Greece – Fertility destination 2021

Andrew Coutts

 

Choosing an IVF clinic can be a daunting task; there are many treatment providers in different countries offering diverse solutions to fertility issues and it is no wonder that patients seeking answers don’t really know where to start.

IFC is very pleased to act as an Ambassador for the Fertility Destination campaign which will enable anyone considering fertility travel an opportunity to learn about the very best clinics and professionals that individual countries have to offer.

The campaign launches with Greece – Fertility Destination 2021 which will showcase treatment opportunities; clinic facilities, professional opinions and visitor attractions.

The campaign which features Greece is particularly timely. In the recent Fertility Tourism Survey 2020 written by Andrew Coutts, Jakub Dejewski and Aleksander Wiecki, it was demonstrated that Greece is fast becoming one of the most popular fertility destinations worldwide. With high quality clinics, staffed by experienced professionals offering excellent levels of care and support it is easy to see why. Add in, accessible travel links, a good climate and a wealth of history and you have the perfect destination.

We look forward to sharing more as the campaign unfolds but for now, take a look at the article below which sets out why Greece was chosen as the first Fertility Destination!

 

Greece – Fertility destination 2021

 

Warm Mediterranean climate, tempting blue sea, impressive beaches, amazing historical sites and great food – these are just a few things that Greece is known for. However, not all of us may be aware of the fact that one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world also plays a very important role on the medical tourism map. It turns out that Greece has a lot to offer in terms of in vitro fertilisation and reproductive medicine in general. If you have been considering IVF treatment abroad and were wondering whether Greece was the right choice for you, we say: yes! And here are some reasons why.

You will find many of the world’s top IVF in Greece, combining high-quality services and reasonable rates. These units, mostly located in Athens, Thessaloniki and Crete, apply excellent practices and are staffed with both state-of-the-art technological equipment and trained specialist doctors. The clinics are certified by internationally acclaimed organisations, which assure not only innovation but also safety and quality of clinical, surgical and laboratory procedures.

What is more, all the IVF clinics in Greece operate under license from the Greek National Authority of Assisted Reproduction. It is a national body that makes controls, gives suggestions, collects data and keeps records of every single case related to assisted reproduction in the country. And finally, what is probably most important from a patient’s point of view – first class fertility treatment is offered in Greece at a much lower cost than in other top European fertility destinations.

Greece has definitely a lot of advantages over other countries in terms of infertility treatments and services – one of them is its liberal IVF legislation. Issued in 2005, it allows for most IVF methods (e.g. intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), egg/sperm donation, frozen embryo transfer), surrogacy arrangements and genetic testing options (such as PGT-A and PGD). The age limit for women undergoing IVF treatment is 50 years old and there are no exceptions in terms of marital status. It means that all the procedures are available to both married and unmarried heterosexual couples, single women and women in lesbian relationships. In case of the latter, it is only required that one partner states she is going through treatment as a single woman and signs a notarial deed.

Greece is one of the countries which allows anonymous egg and sperm donation. According to the Greek IVF law, information on a patient and the child conceived via donation will not be disclosed to an anonymous donor – and vice-versa. Donor anonymity has a lot of advantages: the development of egg/sperm banks, large pools of donor candidates and the lack of waiting lists for donation treatments. The latter will surely be considered as a great asset by advanced-age patients who find time very precious and cannot allow themselves to wait months for the treatment to start.